Jewish activists leading the charge for Palestinian rights

Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda
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There is growing support within the Jewish community for Palestinian rights

Gerry ChidiacWith the growing violence in the Middle East and a groundswell of global support for the well-being of Palestinians, the media is reporting that there is also an increase in the number of racist acts targeting Jews. In an interview with Now This News, Yoni Collins, an Israeli-Canadian filmmaker, expressed his concern and encouraged viewers to reach out to their Jewish friends.

This column is an attempt to not only do that but to draw attention to the fact that it is grossly unjust to blame the actions of the Israeli government and their allies on ordinary Jews.

I have been observing this issue for decades and have found the most vocal supporters of the Palestinian cause to be members of the Jewish community. Groups like Independent Jewish Voices, Jewish Voice for Peace, and B’Tselem have been lobbying for an end to what they refer to as an apartheid regime in Israel. They have been active for years, and their numbers around the world are growing.

palestinian rights jewish
Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda
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Anti-Jewish sentiment has been largely absent in the pro-Palestine rallies now taking place in the Western world because many of the participants are Jewish. A number of these rallies are even organized by Jewish human rights groups. The most obvious example was in Washington, DC, on Oct. 18, when roughly 10,000 Jews demonstrated peacefully, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. This resulted in hundreds of them being arrested.

Individual Jews have also jeopardized their reputations and even their personal safety for speaking out on behalf of Palestinians. The most notable being Professor Noam Chomsky, considered by many the authority on Israel and Palestine.

A viral video now circulating on social media records a passionate account of Holocaust survivor and esteemed Canadian physician Gabor Maté. He describes the conversion he experienced, from being a Zionist believer in the State of Israel to feeling deep compassion for the Palestinian struggle after visiting Gaza. Other Jewish journalists and intellectuals constantly pleading for the cause of Palestinian rights include Maté’s son Aaron, Gideon Levy, Naomi Klein, and Norman Finkelstein, just to name a few.

The most unequivocal statement recently was an article published in Jewish Currents by renowned Israeli historian Raz Segal entitled, A Textbook Case of Genocide: Israel has been explicit about what it is carrying out in Gaza. Why isn’t the world listening? In it, Segal points out that at least three of the five acts stated in the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention are being carried out now in Gaza.

  1. Killing members of the group.
  2. Causing serious bodily and mental harm to members of the group.
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

It should also be noted that the strongest call for military aid to Israel does not come from a Jewish group. Christian Zionists in countries like the United States and Canada embrace a bizarre interpretation of scripture and believe that the second coming of Jesus will only come about when a sufficient number of his direct descendants have been massacred.

Whenever we see conflict, it serves us well to contemplate the words of the great Jewish psychiatrist and philosopher Viktor Frankl: “There are two races of people in the world, but only these two – the ‘race’ of the decent person and the ‘race’ of the indecent person. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate all groups in society.”

The courageous members of the Jewish community who have been advocates for Palestinians provide an important lesson for all of us: following a principled conscience and embracing one’s integrity is far more important than loyalty to a religion, a state, or any human institution.

Now is the time to put aside our labels and embrace the call to be decent human beings.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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